“The truth is we couldn’t deliver our programs without them – when you get to the actual execution of projects, there’s a business that’s part of our team. We need them to get the work done,” Col. Robert J. Ruch said during the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville’s Small Business Forum Oct. 15 in Huntsville, Alabama. The commander spoke to approximately 250 business owners and representatives about Huntsville Center’s mission and potential opportunities to work with the center in the coming years.
“We are really proud of the work we did here,” Ruch said in highlighting some of the center’s fiscal year 2014 small business goals and achievements. The center exceeded its 36 percent small business goal by 7 percent and met the Service Disabled-Veteran Owned Small Business goal for the first time, achieving 3 percent against a goal of 2.5 percent. He also shared that Huntsville Center made the largest-ever federal award to a Service Disabled-Veteran Owned Small Business set-aside contract just before the end of the fiscal year. The $23,526,676 contract was awarded to Herman/JCG CoJoint Venture to renovate the Old Guard Barracks at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia.
Ruch stressed the center’s skill in centrally managing large-scale programs and its various areas of specialized expertise that set it apart in the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as the importance of partnering with quality contractors to perform the work.
“Every one of my customers who comes to me gets a vote; they don’t have to come back to me the next time – kind of like the world you live in,” he explained to the packed room at the Jackson Center in Cummings Research Park. “It’s very important that we execute every project well. You folks are doing that for us.”
Huntsville Center’s Director of Contracting Colleen O’Keefe emphasized how critical it is for businesses to provide feedback to the contracting office to improve the process and provide the best project outcomes.
“We do send out a lot of requests for information and draft [requests for proposal] because we are looking for responses from industry,” O’Keefe said. “We really want you to tell us, ‘Does this make sense?’ ‘Is this the way that your industry does business?’ ‘Have we put something in there that’s proprietary?’ We need that information because we are not necessarily the experts in it, you are.”
Ruch added that the small business forum is a great tool for the center because if every one of the hundreds of people attending wanted to come through the center individually, it would be impossible for program managers to break free from what they are doing to talk to them all. He said offering this forum once a year lets business representatives talk directly to program managers and begin to develop relationships that will benefit both the center and small businesses.
“There’s been a gradual shift in the center’s culture over the past few years to think small business first when a requirement is identified,” said Rebecca Vucinaj, chief of the center’s Office of Small Business Programs. “Every one of us at the center realizes the fact that we are making a difference in supporting our nation’s economy by awarding contracts to small business concerns. We set a phenomenal record this year by achieving 43 percent – absolutely astounding! When you consider some of the highly complex and extremely large awards we make that are not necessarily a good match for small businesses, I could not be prouder of the center’s achievements this past year.”
“Because we break out the programs after the presentation, companies get to talk one-on-one to contracting officers and program managers. They get to network and explain their capabilities to us, and we have the opportunity to see if their capabilities could potentially support our programs,” said Dennis Bacon, Huntsville Center’s DLA Fuels Program manager.
The Army Corps of Engineers is so supportive of the small business community, reaching out to small businesses and bringing them on board, Ruch said. “I don’t think there’s an organization in the Army or maybe even the federal government that does as much outreach and is as successful in using small business to support the programs for our Soldiers and family members.”
Of the $1.8 billion eligible for award to small business concerns, Huntsville Center awarded more than $782 million.